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Top 7 = Graduation + Gatlinburg + (indoor) sky diving + the hell bus

blog top 7 May 30, 2022

This week two of the kids made the transition from one chapter to the next (gradation) and three of the kids joined us in Gatlinburg for a work + play trip… 

That— and more— made my Top 7, where each weekend I sit down, review the previous week (while I plan ahead for the next), and make a few notes. 


The planner I use (download it free at has several journaling prompts at the end of each day. I look back at the “three things I’m grateful for,” which I’ve answered at the end of (most of) the days… and then pull it together for my weekly review. 

The exercise takes me about 2-3 minutes a day. 

Then about 10 minutes— or less— at the end of the week.

And it all reminds me of the great and small things we enjoy every day of our lives. I’ve learned that even when times are tough, there are so many good things. In fact, some of the best things stand out the brightest during those times. 

I try to pull out at least one of my favorite things from each of the 7 key areas of life…

✅ Fitness

✅ Finance 

✅ Family 

✅ Field (career, or whatever you do full time)

✅ Faith

✅ Friends

✅ Fun

Here’s the Top 7 from the past week…



Fitness = a solid week of strong workouts, but the thing I noticed

This week I nailed all of the “Max 30” BeachBody workouts I’d scheduled for the mornings… 

I like them, because— 

👉 they take 30-minutes 

👉 they’re high intensity (not a lot of standing around, so no wasted time)

👉 they get results (I feel stronger after just a few days of consistency)

I still like the really long weekend runs, for sure— when there’s unlimited time to just enjoy the break. But, during a busy week, these quick burst workouts serve me best.

Noticed this on Friday, though…

Thursday night I was… well… to say it simply, emotionally pillaged (don’t know another way to say it). A “friend” from the past has determined that every single time we communicate, they need to make comments about my failings (some are true, some are completely fabricated), reasons I’m wrong and they’re right (in every exchange of info), etc…

It is exhausting. 

And, in some sense, I think that is the “friend’s” point— “I’ll just show you who’s the boss my berating you every chance I get.”

Here’s my point…

Friday morning, heading into the workout I ALREADY felt physically strong. That’s a plus. It generally takes a few minutes to warm my body up and get there.

But, within just a few minutes I suddenly felt weak.

I felt heavy (as in, I felt like my body weighed more), I felt slow, and I felt sluggish.

I couldn’t figure it out.

Then, I thought back to one of the concepts I teach in the Soul Wholeness resources / Freedom March coaching program = that one of the best things you can do for emotional health is exercise. 

Physical exercise— 

✅ fires the left (read: logical) “side” of the brain— and moves you away from emotional depletion 

✅ enlivens the parasympathetic nervous system (which is the opposite of the “sympathetic” nervous system— which is responsible for “fight or flight,” the responses common to PTSD

✅ is actually a neurological activity that gets your mind thinking and creating and making connections in OTHER areas that you hadn’t even thought about (some of my best ideas come while I’m exercising, thereby making my entire day more productive on multiple levels)

No. The routine didn’t “fix” the issue. The “friend” was still antagonistic— and, in all honestly, probably always will be. 

But, I was reminded, as I pushed through the routine, that our entire “self” is connected. What you do emotionally affects you physically; what you do physically affects you emotionally. 

When one is up and the other is down, use the one you can to pull your “whole self” up.



Finance = VIvint messed up, then took care of it with free stuff

We’ve talked about installing a security system at the house for, well… since we got the house. 

We just never did it. 

But, with so many doors…

… and with so many friends and family and everyone else coming and going…

… it just made sense to FINALLY do it.

Vivint gave us a time window: “between 8am and 10am on Tuesday.”

8am came and went. 

Then 9am.

Then… 9:45.

I called to inquire, “Where are you? And, what time should we expect you?”

After 30 minutes on the phone, bumping from department to department and from state to state, I was finally told— even though I had confirmed and THEY had confirmed our apportionment as recently as 7am that morning, “The appointment was canceled.”


A manger reached out— over three hours later.

They couldn’t get someone out that day. And, when they offered TWO DAYS later, I insisted on a specific time— not a time window. They agreed. 

The downside = I missed a few things on Tuesday.

The upside = several free add-ons to the package (again, free), as well as they sent out their #1 tech, a 20-something gal named Jendy. 



Family = Two “graduaters”

Full disclosure: graduater is Salter’s word. 

People that ride bikes are bikers. People who drive are drivers. People who graduate should be graduaters— not graduates. 

“If it’s not a word, yet, we should invent it,” he told me. “It should be THE word for it.”

Whatever the case, we have two, meaning 1/2 of the JCrew2 clan is officially out of high school.

We grabbed a shot of Noah and Anna before heading to UAB’s Bartow arena, thinking we might not get them together again at the actual event. 

Then they sent us a great shot from the “staging area” before walking in.

Graduation, of course, marks a rite of passage— a chapter closed and a new one opened. Beth and I are honored to share a front row seat to the story unfolding for each of these two…

… a story in which, in all transparency, the classes and courses they’ve taken are only a small piece of the the greater life lessons they’ve learned, the “bigger picture” of what they’ve each walked through…



Field = Gatlinburg (work + play)

About two months ago, Bob (executive director at Crosswinds) told me— as we were walking through the “Moral Injury Bible Study” we’ve been putting together, “A church called from North Carolina and wants to know if someone on staff can go speak there for Memorial Day.”

Crosswinds ALSO had the Romanian missionaries coming to the States for a quick stint (which is always work-intensive, because there are so many meetings). So, he asked me if I would like to take the the trip and do the talks. 

Beth and I have thought about some of the dynamics of how to best connect with the kids and help them connect with each other— a blended family— during this season. We decided that, although LARGE family trips can be fun, there’s something precious about taking a few at a time and investing in them. 

We decided to take the middle cluster of boys— Levi, Judah, and Isaac— with us. 

And, rather than staying in Bryson City, where the church is located, we pinpointed Gatlinburg as just 30-ish winding miles away. 

I booked an AirBNB a block from the Main Street, meaning the boys could walk back and forth on their own— and we wouldn’t have to get the cars out. And, we made sure we had a swimming pool and hot tub. 

When we were in HSV last weekend my parents asked what we were doing for Memorial Day, so we told them about the possibility of this trip. They were able to jump on last minute, too, so we were able to spend some focused time with them…

Here’s my Dad, now in his 70s, with three boys 55 years behind him…

There’s a massive amount of wisdom that parents and grandparents teach in the day-to-day stuff of life… but, most of it comes in the unrushed moments like these— when younger and older have the opportunity to simply interact and be present. 

We were so grateful they were able to change their schedule last-minute and join us.

Friday, we drove up to Gatlinburg and went out to eat. We found a steak place (I totally forgot the name of it), complete with long wooden tables and massive “king chairs.” 

Levi opted for a steak AND a big seat AND a pic.

Saturday, we spent a day meandering the streets of Gatlinburg, ending up at Ober Gatlinburg atop the mountain. 

Well, full disclosure, Beth + me + my parents did. The boys slept in and then swam and then joined us at some point in the afternoon 😂, well after ingesting a few pounds of local candy. 

Here’s how we left them that morning—


The belt / or the stretching measure you use

I met the gal pictured below (Lori) at the leather shop atop the hill Ober Gatlinburg. I’ve needed a new belt for quite a while— the old brown one now bent and marred from years of use. 

I found a great one— at a fantastic price.

“Will cut to fit,” the sign read— as each of the belts were about 60” long. 

I walked it to the front counter. 

“Put it on around your waist and let’s measure it,” she said. 

I pulled my old belt off— a black one— and offered, “I really like the fit of this one. Let’s just match it.”

“OK. Great!” she offered, smiling and laughing— as she greeted each customer that walked in.

I laid my black belt across the bar, paralleling it to the new brown one. 

Then she marked the brown one, prepping it to cut, about 2” LONGER than the one I wore in.

“That’s too long,” I protested. 

“Wait,” the reply came. Then— “Let me do my job,” she laughed. 

She cut it, punched the holes, and then handed it cross the counter. 

“Try it,” she said.

“Wow,” I replied, as I buckled the new belt. “It actually fits.”

“The old one stretched,” she said. “They all stretch. Most people think they’re doing OK physically because the old belt still fits, but they forget that those stretch. So the measure moves…”

 I thought about that lesson right there…

The measure moves.

It drifts. Even undetected, it slides. 

And we aren’t where we once thought we were…

… so much to think about there, on so many levels.



Desert = enjoy it with the two bite rule

That afternoon we met back with the boys, walked around, and then grabbed dinner. Afterwards, I decided it was time to try the $13 Belgian Waffle from the place that kept offering us samples each time we walked by. 

Now, I used to have a desert rule— one I JUST brought back. 

“Two bites,” I told the boys. “That’s what I want. Just two. I’ll try it, and then you guys can have it…”

About 4 years ago I began my “two bite rule” for desert. Any time we went out to eat, if they had a desert I wanted to try (i.e., great cheesecake, bread pudding, etc.), I ALWAYS ordered it…

But then only ate two bites. 

This gave me a follow-up from the first, so I could really savor it. And, I had discovered that eating a FULL desert never gave me more satisfaction than those two bites. The full desert actually left me feeling 1) guilty about over-indulging, as well as 2) sluggish from the bloat and subsequent sugar crash.

Plus, the two bite rule always created a great, fun moment for the entire table. I took my two bites and then sent the desert to anyone else who wanted to try it. 

Here’s Beth handing over the Belgian waffle, covered with Nutella and bananas and caramel and ice cream and whipped cream and so much more, to the boys.

Sunday, we made the drive to Victory Church, where I spoke twice about PTSD, Moral Injury, and how to overcome both. 

(I’ll post a recording as soon as they’re available…)

This week I’m grateful for doing work that I enjoy that ALSO allows me the freedom to make trips like this, treks where we can take anyone or everyone, unrushed, and just enjoy….



Faith = the hell bus 

Saturday, we kept running into this vehicle— which I soon dubbed “the hell bus.” Yes, those are pictures of people on the side of the van, apparently standing in the flames. 

The bus features a graphic depiction of the Grim Reaper on the back, as well as a personalized license plate that reads “URDONE4.”

And, just to the bottom of left of the passenger side door handle is a small bit of text that says “Your Name Here.” Perhaps you can read it by zooming in on the picture.

I wish— or maybe I don’t— you could “hear” this picture, too. The hell bus (my name for it, not theirs— and I have no idea what this ministry calls it) is equipped with a sound system that BLARES really bad Christian music as well as a unkind, fuzzy, theologically bad, angry “preaching.”)


Beth and I talked about the bus quite a bit.

“I wonder if anyone has ever said to them, ‘I got saved because I saw a YOUR NAME HERE while I was eating a pancake.’”

Or, “What do people DO after they see the bus? Do they come in closer to radical grace or do they just move on…?”

And, “Do people run to grace and connection or are they just running FROM hell?”

“Do they realize that redemption is about life NOW, too, and that Jesus came to empower them to experience a ‘next level’ life in the present, or have they just bought free insurance for the future with no idea that the hope He offers truly transforms the present, as well?”

I could go on and on…

So. Many. Questions.



Jesus— the One who came to cover / pay / atone / redeem / set free from sin— walked in such a way that tax collectors and prostitutes and people who had been excluded by the religious elite actually flocked TO Him.

Moreover, He never “watered down” the problems associated with sin. And, at the same time He actually ELEVATED the depiction of true holiness… two things we would think to be in contradiction….

The hell bus

Maybe there’s a better way.



Friends = 12+ at the house

Two Saturday afternoons ago Mini asked, “Can I go to the jump park Sunday afternoon and meet some friends?”

Then Isaac asked about going.

“How many are going?”

“About 22.”

Then friends starting coming over to OUR house to play BEFORE the jump park trip. 

And then Levi invited friends— because the boys discovered a rope swing into the Cahaba River not too far from where we live… the kids walk to it, back and forth, multiple times a day during this season.

… and we have trails nearby. They walk and take the mini-bikes. 

And, of course, the Tiny House.

As I drove Mini and Isaac and two other boys to the jump park, I made a quick tally…

“Twelve. Twelve kids and friends in the house. Even with the kids who have moved out and gone to college, a full dozen…”



Fun = The Gatlinburg (work + play) trip

The trip to Gatlinburg makes the “field” AND “fun” category this week. 

After the two Sunday morning talks in Bryson City, we took the winding road over the Smoky Mountains back towards Gatlinburg, made a bank shot to the bypass, and landed in Pigeon Forge. 

The boys wanted to “Sky Dive,” so we obliged. 

Here’s Levi (left, white helmet) and Judah (right, aqua helmet).

After a quick training tutorial, they went into the wind tunnel.

Both of them were able to fly…

Here’s Levi going up on his own— the instructor on the bottom (in black) for safety.

And here’s Judah. The safety glass from the observation deck mars the picture a bit, but I love that you can see his smile here…


Looking back… 

Beth and I snapped this pic on the way up the hill to eat dinner Friday evening. The boys are in a candy store, somewhere within 30 or 40 yards of us, and my parents are wandering through yet another gift shop. 

In moments like these— when I sit down and reflect on the week we’ve just enjoyed— I’m reminded that we are truly blessed. 

This week wasn’t perfect. At all. There were moments I would have loved to have seen play out differently, as well as others I would have liked to have avoided all together…

But we are overwhelmingly blessed. 

And though the paths we both took to find each other and begin rebuilding a life with each other are absolutely long and troublesome and tiring, grace always wins. The Father always settles the score; He always takes all the things and turns them all— in some way— towards our growth and our good. 

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